When Olivia first reached out to ask me to write a story for her blog, although honored, I immediately put it off as long as I could. I had never been great at writing, so when the ‘friendly’ email reminders started coming, I knew I better start working on something quick. So, my first step… google search ‘How to write a story about yourself’.
They had several recommendations, including introducing yourself, list your talents and interests, narrow the topic, use a few details, and be humble. Easy, right? It wasn’t until I started re-reading Olivia’s blog posts that I became inspired to put pen to paper and follow in her steps. After all, I was getting reminders to ‘get my shit together and get it done’.
So, here it goes.
My name is Erica Johnson and I grew up in the good ole’ NEPA area. After a lifetime in the Back Mountain, college moved me away from home, still never leaving the state. Things really got interesting when life’s path took me to ‘big city’ Baltimore, MD for a summer internship that challenged me to step out of my comfort zone.
Enter The Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults (UCF), now known as The Ulman Foundation.
I joined the UCF team for three months with a handful of close cancer connections and an interest in UCFs Support through Sport programs. Little did I know how those three short summer months would change my life.
‘Start with a short list of talents and interests’
During that summer internship I did my best to soak it all in. I shyed away from the city life but jumped in with two feet for all UCF had to offer. From fundraising events and sport team practices to cancer center visits and triathlons… you name it and they did it.
Enter The 4K for Cancer Cross Country Bike Ride.
I don’t recall the exact day that summer that I learned about UCFs 4K for Cancer program, but I remember immediately texting my parents to inform them that ‘next summer after I graduate, I am going to bike across the country’. They simply replied ‘Awesome, let us know what we can do to help’.
70 days on the seat of a bike, pedaling across the country. All to raise funds and support young adults that have been impacted by cancer.
‘Narrow your topic’
Fast forward to early June 2014. I packed my one duffle bag and slightly-ridden bike to begin my summer on the 4K with 30 strangers. We started with two things in common… a cancer connection and wanting to make a difference.
Somewhere in the Midwest I got an email from UCF headquarters. They informed me that they had been connected to a young woman battling cancer from my area named Olivia through a UCF board member and close family friend. They wanted to connect us from our small-town commonality and asked if I would dedicate one of my riding days that summer to her, which of course I was happy to.
Returning home, I had three weeks to integrate back into the real world, pack my belongings, and move back to the ‘big city’ for a full-time position at The Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults. But first, I must meet Olivia.
‘Use a few good details’
Breakfast bagels at Bagel Art was just the beginning. It was an easy conversation to learn that this world, and town, is just too small and we had more in common than we thought. Playing against each other in soccer 10 years earlier is just one of the many examples.
From there our friendship only grew. Olivia began attending UCF events in Baltimore, and hosting UCF fundraisers to raise awareness in our town. She even ‘trusted the process’ and joined the UCF week-long bike ride from Baltimore, MD to Key West, FL as a support drive… twice. I think she finally warmed up to me when I insisted we dress in matching hats and bandanas (evidence below) and sing ‘Aint No Mountain High Enough’ out of the window of the support vehicle going down A1A.
Six years this summer will mark my initial introduction to the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults. Those experiences and individuals taught me about giving, supporting and connecting with others. They taught me no matter where you come from or who you are, you are strong enough to face it all.
Five years this summer will mark the beginning of my friendship with Olivia Marquart. Together we have shared family and laughter. We have supported and listened to each other. And most importantly, Olivia has reminded me to be appreciative of yesterday and happy with today.
Both have made me a better person.